01/07/2016 11:23 EST | Updated 01/07/2017 00:12 EST

Ombudsman report raises questions about Manitoba flood equipment purchase

WINNIPEG — A report from Manitoba's ombudsman has renewed questions about the NDP government's decision to spend $5 million on flood-fighting equipment.

Ombudsman Charlene Paquin says senior civil servants expressed concern about the government's plan to purchase tubes called Tiger Dams in 2014.

Instead of accepting bids from multiple contractors or looking at other equipment, the government was initially intent on buying the Tiger Dams from a specific company.

The company is owned by a friend of Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton who has in the past contributed to both Ashton's and the NDP's election campaigns.

An anonymous whistleblower complained to the ombudsman, and the contract was never issued.

Paquin does not have the power to investigate politicians, but says in her report there are many questions as to why the government wanted to avoid opening the contract to bidding from other companies.

"Some individuals had very strong concerns about the direction to waive a competitive procurement process and the justification for purchasing this quantity of one type of equipment rather than a variety of equipment," the report states.

"Staff indicated that they questioned whether there was a justification for waiving a competitive process that met the intent of the province's procurement policy."

A government source, with first-hand knowledge of the discussions, told The Canadian Press last year that Ashton made the request to the provincial Treasury Board, which insisted on open bidding.

The matter went to cabinet, and Premier Greg Selinger initially backed Ashton’s request, said the source, who would only speak on condition of anonymity.

Selinger has denied the accusation. He said last year he insisted on a full discussion by cabinet and Treasury Board and then directed the contract be put up for open bidding.

Ashton has also denied any wrongdoing. He has said flood-prone First Nations communities in the Interlake region asked for the Tiger Dams. Government rules allow for contracts to be awarded to  specific companies in cases where there is an urgent safety matter, he added.

The Canadian Press